Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lakeland, FL: Girlfriend of man killed by Lakeland officers disputes their account

Two Lakeland police officers say they used lethal force when a man made a move for his gun in Thursday night's fatal shooting.

But the dead man's girlfriend says that's not how it happened and that her boyfriend shouldn't have been shot.

"We always told each other, no matter what, we'd grow old together,” Lisette Galarza said.

Galarza is mourning the loss of her boyfriend of 15 years and the father of her two children, 42-year-old Robert Allen Cortez. He was shot and killed by officers Jordan Hernandez and Daniel Carli at the Lakeland Palms Mobile Home Park off New Tampa Highway.

"He was my best friend," Galarza said. "He was my everything."
But couple have had their share of problems. In fact, Galarza was staying with friends after a recent argument.

She says that because of threats Cortez made against her, she asked Lakeland police to accompany her while she picked up her belongings from their home Thursday night.

She and authorities agree that Cortez answered the door with a gun. But Galarza says Cortez did not threaten officers with it.
"When the cops yelled at him, 'put the gun down, put the gun down,' he went ahead and put that gun down," Galarza said.

Officers say that after Cortez placed the gun near the doorway, he made a threatening move back toward it. The officers told investigators that's when they fired shots.

Galarza says that's not how it happened.

"Not once did my husband reach for his pockets or (make) any kind of movements," she said. "They told him to get down on the ground. He was a little hesitant, OK. ... But he was going to get on the ground. And that's when the cops started shooting him."

Lakeland Police Chief Lisa Womack said the shooting is under investigation.

"Anything that poses a lethal threat to an officer, whether holding (a weapon) or whatever ... I can't speculate on this particular case, but when you have a weapon presented to an officer, it's always going to be considered deadly force," Womack said.

Chief Womack said she believes that the investigation will show that her officers did what they had to do in a very dangerous situation.

Galarza said she plans to get an attorney.

"You took my husband's life," she said. "He did was he was told to do."

Although Galarza and Cortez were not married, Galarza said she considered him her husband because of how long they had been together.

Hernandez has been with the Lakeland Police Department since Aug. 16, 2010 and Carli since Jan. 25, 2010. Both have been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure.

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